A restaurant can be a dangerous place, filled with razor-sharp cutting utensils, slippery floors, super-heated liquids and bodies moving at lightning speed in a confined area. It’s the type of hazardous environment that is a magnet for health inspections conducted by both the Occupational Safety and Hazards Administration (OSHA) and other workers’ compensation authorities. 

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. The key is to think safety, starting from senior management all the way down to the people bussing tables. It also comes down to something as simple as the design of the restaurant itself. Here are some suggestions, courtesy of Restaurant Hospitality and OSHA, on how the design of your restaurant can go a long way in reducing workplace injuries.

In the kitchen:

  • Buy countertops and cutting surfaces that can be adjusted to the right height for different workers.
  • Install dumbwaiters to transfer food products between floors.
  • Install sinks that are at the height of most workers’ hips. This helps prevent strain in dishwashing.
  • Buy thick rubber mats for use when kneeling.
  • Make sure that all the equipment, utensils, pots and pans needed in the kitchen are within reach of the shortest worker.

In the front of house:

  • Install coat racks at chest height.
  • Install hip-height bar sinks and ice storage at bars.
  • Install computer workstations for ordering that are adjustable with touchscreens.
  • Install lights at ordering computer workstations with dimmers that direct light upward, toward the ceiling.
  • Design at the bar is important, too. The distance between the bartender and customer should measure 22 inches or less.

Workers in the restaurant should:

  • Store heavy and frequently used items on racks that are no lower than hip height and no higher than chest height.
  • Limit very low and overhead storage to items not often used.
  • Rather than bending, stooping or kneeling, work at levels between your hips and chest. You should work in your power zone while sweeping the floor.

Owners and managers should:

  • Create a written safety policy in your handbook. This should address separately the hazards most frequently encountered by employees. Work rules must meet or exceed OSHA standards. Work rules need to be in writing and be distributed to all.
  • Communicate the rules to employees. Ensure management is on board and all new employees are properly trained prior to starting. Implement continued training safety and establish safety committed, view vendor demos and educate workers on most frequently encountered hazards.
  • Take steps to discover violations. Oversee safety inspections, walk-throughs and audits. Watch for hazards or rule violations. Do periodic safety self-inspections.

Eventually, health inspections will find their way to your location, preferably just on a routine inspection and not because of some catastrophic workplace injury involving hot soup. But by using the information we’ve outlined above you will survive your next OSHA visit because you will have substantially reduced your risk profile.

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